I had the opportunity to go on the African Study Visit 2015 to Ethiopia in February. The programme of the study visit was an intriguing experience, meeting people with various view points, each of them emphasising different aspects of Ethiopia’s political and social system (and making me much more confused on what to think than ever before) Incidentally all the information that I gained and the many questions that arose, I needed to verbalize, summarize and analyse in my essay anyways, so taking this opportunity Chijioke has given me, I just want to reflect what I felt being present in an African country, given it was my first ever visit to the continent itself.
Going to “Africa” was on my bucket list ever since I was told that both of my parents had lived and worked there. It has always been a vague curiosity of what kind of place Africa was. Living in Japan, where I come from, the continent ‘Africa’ seems so far away. Not only in geographic terms, but just far, simply far away, a place with such a exotic note.
My (and many of my friends) image use to be, thanks to TV news, cartoons and UN adds, mostly a mixture of “Lion King”, brightly coloured bead necklaces, poverty, exotic culture, bloody conflicts, great athletes, dangerous diseases etc. On top of that, I think many have generalized the whole African continent with a single image. Indeed when I told my friends that I was going to Ethiopia, most of their comments were, “Why go there when there is Ebola?” while others requested “I want a picture of a stray lion walking down the street”. I too, though we had been studying on Ethiopia beforehand, somehow still had that metal image of “rural-ness” all over the country, which I was so familiar with in the TV screens.
That was why it did take me by surprise when we arrived in Addis Ababa for the first time and found large and smooth, perfect roads, and many high and western-looking buildings. There were a lot of other shocks, toilets without paper, being trapped inside an elevator, children asking for money, occasional brownish water from the taps, the load of “Ni-hao”s we received (there was a lot of Chinese people in the city) and food I wasn’t used to etc, but to find the city of Addis as a whole with its infrastructure, many nice buildings, the busy traffic and being different from the “Africa” that I had always seen on TV, was fascinating to me. Also, the dramatically changing landscapes we saw as we travelled outside Addis, from the city view to vast grasslands made me realize how unimaginably diverse the whole of the continent must be, let alone Ethiopia.
With the limited time we had, I know I can’t say I now know what Addis Ababa looks like, not to mention what Ethiopia or “Africa” looks like. But I think I have seen enough to tell my friends in Japan that there is much much more to the African continent than what is often portrayed in screens and photos.
Now I have realized how very limited my image of the vast continent has been and how very little I was able to see and learn in the visit, my bucket list will probably grow significantly, making more specific details of which countries and regions in the continent to go to. It seems I really need to stop smoking to live long and healthy.
I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as i did. It’s amazing to see the effect of just knowing a single side of the story and not just that but seeing it through a flawed perspective. There’s a lot of information in the media but we need to be analytical before drawing our conclusions. This goes beyond this post. Hopefully two more posts will be coming up on the Ethiopian trip.
Loads of Love